Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mr. Irving Engages a Guide

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, for the health of the tourist business, like getting a good writer or performer on your side.,  What Hemingway did for the bullfight, what Melina Mercouri did for Sunday--the locals ought to put up statues to them and send royalty checks.

I wonder if one of the first of these is Washington Irving, whose Tales of the Alhambra are--well, actually they can be almost unreadably coy, pompous and fussy unless you take them in the right spirit and try to detach yourself from their excesses.   So constrained, he can still make serve as entertaining company for a visit of the old Moorish palace in Granada whose coffers he did so much to replenish.  Here the celebrated literary guide acquires the services of a guide for himself:
At the gate were two or three ragged superannuated soldiers, dozing on a stone bench, the successors of the Zegris and the Abencerrages; while a tall, meagre varlet, whose rusty-brown cloak was evidently intended to conceal the ragged state of his nether garments, was lounging in the sunshine and gossiping with an ancient sentinel on duty. He joined us as we entered the gate, and offered his services to show us the fortress.
I have a traveller’s dislike to officious ciceroni, and did not altogether like the garb of the applicant.
“You are well acquainted with the place, I presume?”
“Ninguno mas; pues senor, soy hijo de la Alhambra.”—(”Nobody better; in fact, sir, I am a son of the Alhambra!”)
The common Spaniards have certainly a most poetical way of expressing themselves. “A son of the Alhambra!”— the appellation caught me at once; the very tattered garb of my new acquaintance assumed a dignity in my eyes. It was emblematic of the fortunes of the place, and befitted the progeny of a ruin.
I put some farther questions to him, and found that his title was legitimate. His family had lived in the fortress from generation to generation ever since the time of the conquest. His name was Mateo Ximenes. “Then, perhaps,” said I, “you may be a descendant from the great Cardinal Ximenes?”—“Dios sabe! God knows, senor! It may be so. We are the oldest family in the Alhambra — Cristianos viejos, old Christians, without any taint of Moor or Jew. I know we belong to some great family or other, but I forget whom. My father knows all about it: he has the coat-of-arms hanging up in his cottage, up in the fortress.”— There is not any Spaniard, however poor, but has some claim to high pedigree. The first title of this ragged worthy, however, had completely captivated me, so I gladly accepted the services of the “son of the Alhambra.”
 --So Washington Irving, Tales of the Alhambra, "Palace of the Alhambra," available here.

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